Wednesday, March 25, 2009
The Old Lady's in Danger - Again
Wild speculation. Cataclysmic losses. A gullible mob demanding vengeance. Wall Street 2008? Nope, London 1720. Here’s another one. “I cannot repay you.” Bernie Madoff to his investors. Nope, King Charles II addressing his bankers.
I learned all of this yesterday at the wonderful Bank of England Museum in the City of London. I avoided this place for the last decade, thinking that the story of the Bank “from its foundation in 1694 to its role today as the nation’s central bank” couldn’t be very exciting.
Well, I was wrong. First, there was the South Sea bubble mentioned above where everyone lost their shirt, company directors were arrested and the Chancellor of the Exchequer expelled from Parliament. Then there was the mob’s attack on the bank during the riots of 1780, where the bank was protected by a military guard that was only abolished in 1973. And then there’s that business about the raising of a Volunteer Corp from the Banks’ staff to defend the institution against a French invasion, not to mention being bombed during the Blitz and nationalised in 1946. Phew, it starts to put things into perspective. Over the centuries there have been plenty of crashes, financial meltdowns and public hysteria. We’re not the first and we won’t be the last.
In addition to presenting the history of the Bank, the museum provides several excellent interactive exhibits explaining inflation and other aspects of banking and monetary policy. The exhibits do a good job of communicating complex concepts in ways that are easy to understand and the museum is perfect for students and young adults, although I doubt they will jump for joy when you say, “Hey kids, today we’re going to the Museum of the Bank of England.” Take them anyway because this museum is a real winner. It’s topical, it’s not crowded and best of all during these hard times, admission, the brochure and the audio guide are all free.
Bank of England Museum
Entrance in Bartholomew Lane
London EC2R 8AH
Open Monday to Friday
10:00am - 5:00pm
Closed weekends, Public & Bank Holidays
Tel: 020 7601 5545
Image: Political Ravishment, the old Lady's in danger. James Gillray, 1797